ProPublica,Science Lags As Health Problems Emerge Near Gas Fields, September 16
By Abrahm Lustgarten and Nicholas Kusnetz
Wallace-Babb was so sick she could barely move. She vomited uncontrollably and suffered explosive diarrhea. A searing pain shot up her thigh. Within days she developed burning rashes that covered her exposed skin, then lesions. As weeks passed, any time she went outdoors, her symptoms worsened. Wallace-Babb’s doctor began to suspect she had been poisoned.
“I took to wearing a respirator and swim goggles outside to tend to my animals,” Wallace-Babb said. “I closed up my house and got an air conditioner that would just recycle the air and not let any fresh air in.”
Wallace-Babb’s symptoms mirror those reported by a handful of others living near her ranch in Parachute, Colo., and by dozens of residents of communities across the country that have seen the most extensive natural gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing, along with other processes used to drill wells, generates emissions and millions of gallons of hazardous waste that are dumped into open-air pits. The pits have been shown to leak into groundwater and also give off chemical emissions as the fluids evaporate. Residents’ most common complaints are respiratory infections, headaches, neurological impairment, nausea and skin rashes. More rarely, they have reported more serious effects, from miscarriages and tumors to benzene poisoning and cancer.Also read Laila Yuile’s Are you fracking kidding me, Christy?
…Exemptions from federal environmental rules won by the drilling companies have complicated efforts to gather pollution data and to understand the root of health complaints. Current law allows oil and gas companies not to report toxic emissions and hazardous waste released by all but their largest facilities, excluding hundreds of thousands of wells and small plants. Many of the chemicals used in fracking and drilling remain secret, hobbling investigators trying to determine the source of contamination.
…At the same time, fracking’s lasting environmental toll — particularly the threat it may pose to water supplies — has become the subject of intense debate. Since 2008, ProPublica has reported about hundreds of cases of water contamination in more than six states where drilling and fracking are taking place as well as the difficulties of handling the vast quantities of waste the drilling processes produce.
…In the few places where basic environmental sampling has been done, the results confirm that water and air pollution is present in the same regions where residents say they are getting sick. Last spring, the EPA doubled its estimates of methane gas leaked from drilling equipment, and said the amount of methane pollution that billows from fracking operations was 9,000 times higher than researchers had previously thought.
…In Pavillion, Wyo., where residents have complained of nerve damage, and loss of sense of taste and smell, EPA superfund investigators found benzene and other hydrocarbons in well water samples, as well as methane gas, metals, and an unusual chemical variant of a compound used in hydraulic fracturing.
…”It’s one thing if you choose to work for that industry and you get damaged from that exposure,” Wallace-Babb said. “At least they made money. But if you are just living and minding your own business and your life gets torn asunder, it’s different.
“I made nothing. I got all the damage.”